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Eagleton was source for "Amnesty, Abortion and Acid" quote

Eagleton was source for Amnesty, Abortion and Acid quote

On April 25, 1972, George McGovern won the Massachusetts primary and journalist Bob Novak phoned Democratic politicians around the country, who agreed with his assessment that blue-collar workers voting for McGovern did not understand what he really stood for. On April 27, 1972 Novak reported reported in a column that an unnamed democratic senator had said of McGovern: "The people donít know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once middle America - Catholic middle America, in particular - finds this out, heís dead." The label stuck and McGovern became known as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion and acid." Novak was accused of manufacturing the quote and rebut the criticism, Novak took the senator to lunch after the campaign and asked whether he could identify him as the source but the senator said he would not allow his identity to be revealed. "Oh, he had to run for re-election. The McGovernites would kill him if they knew he had said that," says Novak. On July 15, 2007, Novak disclosed on Meet the Press that the unnamed senator was Thomas Eagleton. Political analyst Bob Shrum says that Eagleton would never have been selected as McGovern's running mate if it had been known at the time that Eagleton was the source of the quote, Eagleton's electro-shock treatments would never have become an issue in the 1972 presidential campaign, and McGovern would have remained politically viable carrying perhaps eight to ten states against Richard Nixon in 1972.

Eagleton was source for "Amnesty, Abortion and Acid" quote

A slice of history

Biographers of the late U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri will find some vivid anecdotes when they comb through his large collection of journals, letters and transcripts housed in Columbia.

By TERRY GANEY of the Tribuneís staff
Published Sunday, August 19, 2007

The name of the late Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton emerged in the news again recently when a Washington-based columnist claimed in a book that Eagleton was the anonymous source of a quote that haunted the 1972 presidential campaign of Democrat Sen. George McGovern.

Former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton speaks at a Boone County Courthouse expansion dedication Sept. 17, 1990. Eagletonís take on 50 years of political events can be found in a large collection of his papers housed in Columbia.

Robert Novak, a conservative columnist, asserted that Eagleton was the unnamed source for a statement that appeared in Novakís column that spring: "The people donít know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once middle America - Catholic middle America, in particular - finds this out, heís dead."

In his column, Novak only attributed the quote to an unnamed Democratic U.S. senator. Then, in a political twist of fate, a couple of months later, McGovern picked Eagleton as his running mate.

Novakís new assertion that Eagleton was his source stirred debate over whether the promise of confidentiality extends beyond the death of the source. Eagleton died in March from a combination of heart and respiratory problems.

If Eagleton was the source, itís important to understand the context in which the remark was made. Thatís the job of James N. Giglio, an author and former history professor at Missouri State University, who has begun work on Eagletonís biography. For his research, Giglio will rely heavily on a trove of documents stored in Columbia.

"One thing you have to remember is that Tom Eagleton was a Muskie supporter, and that was the senator for the Midwest, and McGovern was viewed as too unconventionally liberal," Giglio said recently in discussing Eagletonís alleged remark. Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie also was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Eagleton was a committed Muskie delegate at the partyís national convention in Miami up until almost the moment that McGovern won the nomination.

"I donít think what Novak said was damaging," Giglio added. "It has to be put into context."

The biggest resource Giglio will have for recounting Eagletonís life is the huge volume of Eagleton papers housed at the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection of the State Historical Society of Missouri on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. Among the documents found there are letters, daily appointment journals, political campaign reports, photographs and an assortment of other materials.

The collection also includes a narrative explanation Eagleton wrote about the controversy surrounding his selection as McGovernís running mate and his departure from the ticket two weeks later over the issue of his treatment for depression and fatigue.

Also included in the collection are letters to publishers about his book ideas, written thoughts about a presidentís war-making powers and advice to Anheuser-Busch executives about how to deal with beer warning label regulations.

Thereís also a 49-page transcript of an oral history interview Eagleton gave on Nov. 3, 1998. In it, Eagleton expounds on politics, history, the Army Corps of Engineersí wasteful spending practices and one of his most memorable political moments.

It is in that interview, too, that Eagleton talks about his relationship with Muskie. At the time Muskie was campaigning for the presidency, Eagleton chaired Muskieís environmental subcommittee.

Eagleton and Muskie were on the same page when it came to ecology. The pair worked together on passing the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972.

"We were friends," Eagleton said at the time. "He was one of Americaís noble men. He wants very, very much to be right for the right reasons."


Eagleton was elected St. Louis circuit attorney in 1956 at age 27. He later served as state attorney general, lieutenant governor and then three terms in the U.S. Senate, ending in 1987. Outside Missouri, he is best remembered as the man who briefly served as McGovernís running mate before being dumped from the ticket.

Much of the material about that tumultuous time is contained in Box 22 of the Eagleton collectionís unprocessed files. The box contains a cardboard file folder marked, "1972 files. Important. Do Not Misplace."

The folder contains a series of pages Eagleton wrote apparently as part of a manuscript for book that was never published. Memos attached to the pages show they were shared with Theodore White, the political author who documented the campaign in "The Making of the President, 1972."

In July 1972, while housed with the 73-member Missouri delegation to the national convention, Eagleton got a telephone call from McGovern, who asked him to be his running mate. McGovernís campaign director, Frank Mankiewicz, asked Eagleton whether there were skeletons in his closet, and Eagleton replied in the negative. Eagleton did not consider his prior health conditions to be a "skeleton."

"In essence, the sin for which I have been seriously criticized was that sin of not telling McGovern or Mankiewicz about my previous health problems," Eagleton wrote later. "I was not plagued with haunting memories of my medical past. In no way do I consider my previous health as illegal or immoral or shameful. Yes. I had overworked myself into a state of exhaustion accompanied by depression. Yes. I had voluntarily gone into the hospital."

After Eagleton became the nominee on July 14, 1972, rumors emerged about his health problems. Investigative columnist Jack Anderson claimed Eagleton had been arrested several times in Missouri for drunken driving, which Eagleton denied. Anderson later admitted the stories were wrong and retracted them. But the damage was done.

Eagleton and McGovern held a joint news conference in which Eagleton explained his three hospitalizations and the fact that he had undergone electroshock therapy. Eagleton recounts in his narrative that although presidents had known physical problems, "a problem related to the mind - a depression treated with electroshock - this was something untested in the public."

As he traveled around the country, Eagleton got messages of support and well wishes from the public. Included among the documents is a July 27 telegram: "Donít quit. Make this into a plus for the people of the country. You are a great candidate. Your record is superior in every way. Please donít give up."

The telegram is from Eunice and Sargent Shriver. Eunice Shriver was the former Eunice Kennedy, sister to Sen. Ted Kennedy. After Eagleton left the ticket, McGovern picked Sargent Shriver as his running mate.

There are several notes in the file that indicate McGovernís staff was made aware of Eagletonís health history before his selection as McGovernís running mate. The situation developed because of Eagletonís eagerness for the vice presidential nomination, the haste with which the selection was made and the fact that neither McGovern nor Eagleton believed the health history would become that controversial.

As McGovernís advisers and supporters suggested Eagleton leave the ticket, the Missouri senator told McGovern he believed the controversy helped the ticket because it demonstrated Eagleton was a fighter. But Eagleton also told him, "George, if my presence on the ticket causes you any embarrassment or is a hindrance or an impediment, I will step aside."

McGovern accepted Eagletonís offer.


Giglio, who has authored books on the presidency of John Kennedy and the baseball career of Stan Musial, said Eagleton has relevance to current issues such as the presidentís ability to wage war. He anticipates the cooperation of Eagletonís friends and family to complete the biography.

He also expects to spend a lot of time with the Eagleton papers, which measure about 480 linear feet, the equivalent of about 480 traditional file cabinet drawers.

"It has to be one of our largest collections," said David Moore, associate director of the manuscript office.

Eagletonís oral history recounts one of his most memorable political moments.

It was in 1959, when Eagleton was running in the Democratic primary for attorney general, his first statewide race. His major opponent was state Sen. George Spencer, D-Columbia. Spencer had been the Boone County prosecuting attorney and the Democratic floor leader of the state Senate.

In the race against Spencer, Eagleton sought the support of J.V. Conran, a powerful political figure in the Bootheel. Conran, in addition to being a banker and cotton grower, was the New Madrid County prosecuting attorney.

Eagleton recalled meeting with Conran in his spare office on the top floor of an old courthouse. The office had few decorations, a couple of chairs and a metal desk.

"But the thing that caught my eye, there was a pistol on the desk," Eagleton recalled. "On his right-hand side."

They talked politics, but Eagleton kept eyeing the gun.

"Iíve got to ask you about that gun," Eagleton finally said.

"Yes, I noticed you looking at it," Conran replied. "There are some mean people down in this county."

"Yes, are there?" Eagleton replied.

"Yes," Conran said. "Iíve got enemies."

"Yes, sir," Eagleton said.

"Iíve got that there, and nobodyís going to take advantage of me," Conran said.

And Eagleton said, laughing, "Well, not me, sir, Iíll tell you that!"

Spencer beat Eagleton in more than 90 Missouri counties, but Eagleton won the primary, carrying about a dozen counties, including most of the Bootheel, St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County, which includes the Kansas City area. The race ended Spencerís political career.

Though Eagleton never lost a statewide race in Missouri, he witnessed the change in the political landscape that saw the end of a political organizationís ability to deliver votes.

"Television is the king," Eagleton said in interview that was recorded on general election day nearly nine years ago. "Money. Television. Polls. Polls tell you what to say on television, and money buys it. Thatís todayís politics or 95 percent of it."


Eagleton had authored or co-authored "War and Presidential Power: A Chronicle of Congressional Surrender" and "Issues in Business and Government." He was working on his own memoir when he died at the age of 77. Whether his autobiography will make it into print is still in doubt. In the waning days of his political career, he entertained other book-writing notions.

One idea he pursued was a nonfiction account of seven great Missourians. Another book possibility was "They Ran, Too," a collection of biographical sketches of defeated vice presidential candidates.

With the help of researchers, Eagleton collected material on these topics and even wrote some draft chapters.

His proposal about "Seven Great Missourians" focused on the likes of Carl Schurz, a liberal reformer and U.S. senator from Missouri, and "Boss Tom," Tom Pendergast and his role in the nomination of Franklin Roosevelt for president at the 1932 Democratic Convention. Others on Eagletonís list included Sens. Thomas Hart Benton, James Reed and Stuart Symington, Speaker of the House Champ Clark, and one-time Democratic National Chairman Robert Hannegan.

"I find in the diverse careers of these men a common Missouri stamp of responsible audacity which equipped them well for their major roles in American political life," Eagleton wrote in a 1985 letter to Richard Snyder, then Simon and Shuster president.

In a letter to another publisher, Eagleton said, "I realize it ainít sexy. Doesnít deal with drugs and doesnít have any wife beating," and thus "it ainít going to be a best-seller."

For his efforts, Eagleton collected rejection letters, which are also part of the papersí collection.

"With the general book market such as it is, we would not be able to fit this type of work into our current publishing plan," replied Patrick Filley, Doubledayís editorial director.

Mark Abels, who was Eagletonís press secretary from 1975 to 1981 and remained a friend, said Eagleton was working on his own autobiography during the last year of his life.

"Whether that will be published or not is something that his widow and children are thinking about," Abels said. "He got pretty much through a first draft, but it remained a rough piece of work that needs extensive editing."

If Eagletonís memoir would be as candid as his oral history interview, it should provide interesting reading, especially for state historians, political junkies and budding politicians. Eagleton helped kill a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to create a lake in south-central Missouri by damming the Meramec River. He said Dick Ichord, the Democratic congressman from the area who had supported the project for years, never forgave him for it.

"The Corps of Engineers just loves cement," Eagleton said. "Loves to put it everywhere. If they could pave the Mississippi River with cement, I think theyíd try to do it."

Eagleton said the corps attempts to justify its projects using phony figures that prove the economic worth of a project.

"They were bullshit," Eagleton said. "They werenít corrupt, or they werenít illegal. Their job and their employment and their payroll depended on building stuff with cement. And if you start saying, ĎWeíre not going to build this,í they have a smaller payroll and a smaller empire. It was really just that simple."


The schematic diagrams of Eagletonís professional and political life can be found in his daily appointment books, which are also part of the collection. The pages record dates and times of meetings with key national and state political figures, some of whom are from Columbia.

For example, Eagletonís calendar for Aug. 23, 1962, shows he had a 1 p.m. golf outing scheduled with Scott Wright of Columbia. At that time, Eagleton was a state attorney general and a friend of Wrightís. Both men had been prosecuting attorneys at the same time.

With Eagletonís recommendation, President Jimmy Carter later appointed Wright as a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for Western Missouri. Wright now serves as a senior judge for that court.

Eagletonís day book for that same year shows simply "St. Pete" for the dates between March 20 and 28. Thatís a reference to St. Petersburg, Fla., where in those days the St. Louis Cardinals held spring training. Eagleton was a Cardinals fan.

His papers reflect a lifelong connection with St. Louis-based brewer Anheuser-Busch, which then owned the Cardinals. Eagletonís father, Mark Eagleton, was the attorney for August A. Busch Jr., who was president of the company for several decades. The records show that while Tom Eagleton was state attorney general in 1963 he was helping his father represent Gussie Busch in a lawsuit brought by Fred Saigh, a Busch stockholder who believed Busch was wasteful in his operations of the company.

Later, after Eagleton left the U.S. Senate and was a member of a St. Louis law firm, he became a paid Anheuser-Busch consultant providing infrequent advice on issues important to the company. Anheuser-Busch sought Eagletonís input on issues such as beer can warning labels and taxes. Eagleton did not lobby on behalf of the company.

Eagleton offered unsolicited advice to his friend, Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota, who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984. Eagleton wrote Jim Johnson of Public Strategies in Washington in 1983, when Johnson was Mondaleís campaign manager. Eagleton provided a list of key political people in Missouri whom he said Mondale should call personally.

"I know telephone calls are a pain in the ass," Eagleton wrote. "But they are vital in order to motivate key people. They have to hear from Ďthe man.í A call from Eagleton or Jim Johnson ainít worth shit."

As Mondale was considering whom to pick as his running mate, Eagleton wrote him to suggest choosing someone "who truly is compatible both personally and philosophically."

He suggested his good friend, then-Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, or then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. Mondale picked then-U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-New York, the first woman and only woman on a national ticket. Incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush beat them in a landslide.

By that time, Eagleton had decided he was leaving the Senate. He was 58 when he ended his political career. He was leaving, he said, because "of the horrible money factor." When Eagleton weighed running again in 1986, he knew heíd have to call people he had never met to ask for money.

"Campaign spending is I think the greatest attack on democracy that I know of," Eagleton said to Will Sarvis, the oral history interviewer. "Elections are being bought. Candidates, knowingly or unknowingly, are bought and sold. You take a lot of money from labor unions, they expect results. You take a lot of money from the truckers or insurance companies or lawyers, they want some results. Someone running for the Senate, the day heís elected, heís about three-fourths decided on his votes, or heís double-crossing his money people. Itís a very odious political system that we have now."

Reach Terry Ganey at (573) 815-1708 or tganey@tribmail.com.

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